FIFA in Brazil: Welcome to the Existential Games!

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Homeless worker protesting on the eve of the Brazil 2014 World Cup

 

Four years ago (it scarcely seems that long ago!) I found myself in the middle of all the Fifa World Cup hoopla, hype and hysteria in the country that was hosting the tournament: South Africa.  The first time I was ever aware of the World Cup proper was when the USA hosted the event in the summer of 1994. I played a bit in grade school but never followed the sport internationally. I was struck at the difference in the level of play between Team USA and their opponents. The Americans seemed slow, confused and pretty much bumbled around the pitch like bumper cars (my probably inaccurate recollection). I was also struck by how passionately the fans rooted for their respective country’s team.

I began checking out professional soccer games on television. Fox Soccer Channel and ESPN offered the most coverage in my town, and when the Major League Soccer franchise opened in Columbus as Columbus Crew Soccer Club with the first soccer – specific stadium in American history, well I thought that was cool. I needed a hobby to placate my entertainment – starved mind.

It’s the innocuousness of such an introduction that today leaves me with a vague sense of embarrassment and loathing. In many ways, the game as it exists within its own frame of reference, logic and reality, is a perfect combination of space, energy, physical skill and mental acuity; in other words, the balanced, perfect relationship between the mind and body (in relationship between the other minds and bodies on the pitch) all focused on a singular task. Running, jumping, passing, tackling, defending or kicking a ball into a net. It’s very complex, and yet easy to understand the draw of such a physical drama can have on consciousness. It is easy to understand how the mind can compartmentalized and separate the perceived innocuous, feel – good essence of the sport from its toxic, reptilian reality. The essence more times than not, can only be perceived by assertions or fleeting emotions and feelings. Reality, however – cuts like a knife.

For example: In that 1994 World Cup the U.S. team first tied Switzerland 1-1, and in a surprising upset, defeated the fourth – ranked Colombia squad, the difference, an own goal deflected into the net by Colombian defender Andreas Escobar. While it was the only high point in the U.S. team’s experience in the World Cup, Escobar was murdered in a hail of gunfire as he left a Medellin nightclub. The assailant was reported to yell, ‘Goal!” after each shot.  Such are the ways of mankind. [1]

In South Africa, many years later, and totally by coincidence as far as I was concerned, I was in another country experiencing World Cup fever. I didn’t get to see much of the games unless I was at the mall or managed to see it online or in the shops. But for me I had already encountered and appreciated a deeper perspective of all the issues and dimensions such a mass event presents. It was reported in the media that colossal stadia of dubious public benefit were going to be built basically at the expense of the public good. In essence, that’s a fancy way of saying that money that should have been used to benefit the people was instead diverted into the pockets of the entities that have engorged themselves silly on the stateless corporate entity called Fifa; a reptilian, parasitic outfit, widely (and correctly) viewed as a colossal existential tower of greed and corruption answerable to nobody but its own pathological self-interests and desires.

Four years later, those games tore into South Africa, sucked up billions of tax – free profits and caught the next train out of town. It sure is a good thing Fifa is a tax-exempt, not – for – profit organization and all. It cost Germany $1.5 billion to put on the World Cup in 2006. South Africa? Make that a hot $4 billion bucks to put on the games in 2010.  This year’s World Cup is going to be much more expensive for Brasil to host: $11 billion bucks. Which is the most expensive World Cup to date. Which should induce a moral outrage in any clear – headed human being. But that’s why I marvel at the mind’s ability to compartmentalize, separate and isolate competing and contradictory factors bouncing within our domes;  it can either cause one to question one’s own scene, or to consign the ugliness to darkness to be forgotten, unremembered and easily reassembled into nostalgia.

While I was in South Africa during that World Cup, I watched a few games on the big screen,mainly, and marveled at individual plays while keeping an eye on the ugly side of the event as it presented itself. There were no major demonstrations from what i remember. The whole thing was basically a mass event that lived in the mind for months before climaxing as a cultural event during a few short weeks and then, quickly fading out of our collective memory.  All bets are off for this year’s World Cup in Brazil, however. It’s already looking to be a different kind of World Cup experience.

And now the games are going down in a day or two in Brasil. Protests? Check. Labor strikes? Check. Media schadenfreude? Check. Accusations of bribery? Check. Nervous corporate sponsors? Check. So far, so good for Brazil…

And then we come to the titular head of Fifa, Sepp Blatter. He’s a great guy to have on your team. When the news and allegations over charges of corruption and mistreatment of foreign workers in Qatar (World Cup 2022) began gaining momentum, Sepp grinned and shrugged; “I would never say it’s corruption.” When sponsors began recoiling at the possible commercial blowback on its links to Fifa, he muttered; “Sadly there’s a great deal of discrimination and racism.” Aww, makes him “sad.” But Sepp is not taking this laying down! “‘We are in the situation where we need leadership,” he said. “I still have fire inside me and if we show unity that is the best way to deal with those in the world that want to destroy FIFA.” The 78 year-old Sepp openly bribes members of Fifa with “bonuses” if they continue to support his re-election! [2]

Well, I’m sad, too. I’m sad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!

Fifa is the perfect, monolithic monument to the glory of neoliberal capitalism. It is unfettered by local and international law, it exists solely to increase its wealth and power, and it absolutely has no other interests, business or humanitarian, other than what it can get for itself. It is a living existential nightmare that is bound to no nation, creed, tax or law. In many ways it has taken the form of an itinerant,  organized religious entity, leaving in its wake a series of barely – used enormo-domes scattered across the Earth, destined to fall into vacant disrepair and neglect, while the locals pay with their blood, sweat, tears and life the price for the global entertainment of minds made possible through the villainy, greed and power of neoliberal economics. There’s no joy that can be had in this world worth such a cost. And yet, the future suggests that the resistances, pressures and fissures that will be at play arrayed onto the stateless gravy – train – golden era for Fifa and other players of the Existential Games may not be long for this world.

 

NOTES

[1] http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/soccer/world/2002/world_cup/hof/escobar/

[2] Sepp on those wanting to “destroy FIFA.”

 

 

 

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